Even given Zack Snyder's experience in bringing graphic novels to film (he is the man who adapted 300 after all), adapting Watchmen had to have been formidable. On one hand, the graphic novel had been labelled "unfilmable" by some. On the other hand, it is also considered the greatest graphic novel of all time. There would be many who would looking for Snyder to fail in adapting Watchmen, and regardless of how fine a film he made, there would be those who would insist he did indeed fail.
As it turns out, however, Zack Snyder proves that Watchmen was not unfilmable by giving us very well done film adaptation. Given the sheer length of the graphic novel, the movie version of Watchmen does omit many of the smaller details found in the graphic novel (for example, the characters on the New York street corner which appears in much of the graphic novel is absent from the film), but with the exception of one major change in the plot and a very few minor ones (which I won't reveal here) it is relatively faithful to its source material. I honestly cannot see any of the graphic novel's fans beyond purists being displeased with the film. Indeed, the film duplicates some of the Dave Gibbons' panels from the graphic novel almost exactly and uses some of Alan Moore's dialogue verbatim!
Of course, for the film to succeed it would have to stand on its own. And that it does quite well. Indeed, just as Watchmen the graphic novel wasn't your father's comic books, Watchmen the movie isn't your father's superhero movie. It is an epic which runs two hours and 43 minutes and spans 45 years of history. Watchmen is also a very complex film which makes frequent use of flashbacks and unfolds in a distinctly non-linear fashion. What is more, some of the more important information about the characters is revealed in brief, key scenes--from Rorschach as a young boy fighting back against bullies to Dr. Manhattan as a child learning from his watchmaker father. In many respects, Watchmen is The Dark Knight meets Citizen Kane.
While Zack Snyder achieves much that is worthwhile in his adaptation of Watchmen, the film does have a few (granted, a very few) moments that misfire. The love scene between Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) aboard Archimedes (AKA the Owlship) to the tune of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" simply seems awkward (although much of this may be due to the choice of music more than anything else).
For the most part the film's performances are impressive. Best of them all is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, the violent vigilante who starts the plot rolling when he looks into the death of fellow mask The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Haley not only brings a sense of psychosis to Rorschach (here is a superhero who would frighten even The Joker as played by Heath Ledger), but a scene of pathos as well. Billy Crudup gives a solid performance in what was a very difficult role, as Dr. Manhattan, the only truly superhuman member of The Watchmen whose very power makes him detached from humanity over time. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also does an excellent job as The Comedian, the amoral old timer whose murder sets everything in motion. In fact, perhaps only two of the film's performances do not quite seem up to par. Malin Akerman gives Silk Spectre II little personality, but then it must be admitted that given the script (and the graphic novel, for that matter) she had very little to work with. At the same time it is very difficult to get a grasp upon Mathtew Goode as Ozymandias, beyond the fact that he seems a bit of an egomaniac. In Goode's defence, however, it must be pointed out that Ozymadias is given very little screen time.
As I said earlier, Watchmen is not your father's superhero movie. It earned its R rating rightfully. There is a good deal of violence in the film. Rorschach breaks limbs and cracks skulls. The Comedian guns down people in cold blood. Even Dr. Manhattan turns human beings into bloody splatter. There are at least two sex scenes. There is even full frontal, male nudity, although it is achieved through the use of CGI. This is not one of the Spider-Man movies, and my advice to any parent thinking of letting young children watch this film is simple: don't.
Watchmen is not a perfect film, but it is a very well done one. And I have to wonder that its status as an intellectual superhero movie that goes even further than The Dark Knight in overturning what one expects from superhero movies will make it difficult for the average movie goer to access. At any rate, I rather suspect that at the very least Watchmen will join Zack Snyder's 300 as a fanboy fave.
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